Thursday, February 4, 2010

the massacre in Juarez

So the plot thickens over the recent massacre in Ciudad Juarez... authorities believe those killed were indeed innocent and had nothing to do with organized crime.

This slaughter highlights just how difficult the situation in Ciudad Juarez will be to resolve.

For those not following this story: a resident of one of the city's working class neighborhoods apparently phoned a group working for the Juarez cartel to alert them of a party that members of Chapo's gang were going to be throwing in the area; the killers arrived and fired indiscriminately, killing 16 students – who it turns out were probably not in the employ of the narcos.

A suspect who was arrested maintains that the students were working for Chapo's SInaloa cartel, but to me, that's not the important part of this story. (It will likely never be proven either, given investigation capabilities/efforts in Juarez.) The lack of communication is what worries me.

The authorities love to say how well anonymous tips are working throughout the country. But look at the realities of anonymous tips – first off, who's working for who? This killing occurred because someone tipped off a rival gang? Was this anonymous tipper working for the other gang?

Tips given to the army are also a problem. When the army went into Juarez in 2008, it received floods of phone tips, and had no idea where in town that particular place was. (No kidding: they would wander around town asking people for directions to so-and-so place – and anyone who knows Mexico knows that if you are an outsider asking for directions it's quite possible you'll get a purposeful, cheeky lie as the answer. If you're a soldier? Forget it.) So the soldiers began consulting the police – who in turn would tip off the narcos about any impending raids. I was there with the soldiers on one occasion their intel was breached – they received a threat instead and had to send their men scrambling in panic. There was no raid that night.

Residents also complained that the soldiers would indiscriminately barge into homes (the wrong ones) and on occasion, shoot the wrong people. Nothing proven, but quite possible.

Now, on the narco side, you have a similar but at the same time, different, problem. In Ciudad Juarez, you've got Chapo's people fighting the remnants of the Carrillo Fuentes organization. You have people tipping off the authorities about rival gangs, you apparently have people tipping off rival gangs about rival gangs. You also have threats of vigilante groups, which up to now have yet to make good on their promises to take the law into their own hands. And because of the astounding bloodshed in Juarez in the past two years, you have dismantled structures within organizations.

The Mexican cartels, largely, are not stupid, indiscriminate killers (bloodshed attracts unnecessary attention; if you were a multi-billion dollar multinational business, would you want to be in the headlines for beheading people?) so usually, when the higher ups make the call to kill someone, it's done right. (There's a good story about Chapo, and how he once allegedly had a guy killed for killing the wrong woman.)

With the structure of the organizations lacking, however, you now have bands of goons who don't calculate before killing, they just open fire and drive away.

In effect, you now have a wonderfully fertile ground for indiscriminate massacres like the one we've just witnessed. Sadly, I expect more of these kinds of incidents.

PS - the picture above is of a secretary at one of Juarez's police stations, after a threat last year. Crazy town...

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